DHAKA: An exhibition showcasing handicrafts from members of the Rohingya community living in refugee camps was held in Bangladesh on Monday.
Hundreds of thousands of people from the Rohingya Muslim minority have arrived in Bangladesh since a military crackdown in neighboring Myanmar last year triggered an exodus, straining resources in the impoverished country.
The event, jointly organized by the UNHCR and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, is aimed at promoting a livelihood and craftsmanship of the displaced and distraught community.
“I learnt how to make different things out of bamboo from my mother when I was a child,” Khodeza Khatun told Arab News. The 27-year old, who lives in the Kutupalang refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, said her mother made household items from bamboo and sold them to neighbors.
“That little traditional craftsmanship from my early age has opened a new avenue of my life through which I can now earn a little money, even in this camp life."
Many of those who fled Myanmar hailed from western Rakhine state, where the UN says the military carried out an ethnic cleansing operation against the Rohingya.
The Rohingya are widely regarded in Myanmar as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, even though many have lived there for generations.
“When I was in Rakhine, I used to prepare my own bamboo fishing baskets and some bamboo pots to use during the irrigation of my paddy field. The skill which I acquired from my elders has now become a source of inspiration for many of my fellow refugees in the camp,” said Jomir Hossain, 55, who also lives in the
Kutupalang refugee camp.
Almost two dozen men and women showcased their work, displaying baskets, bags and wall mats.
“We identified the Rohingya artisans and they produced the goods by themselves. We engaged an artist who worked with them and helped them improve the design,” Raquibul Amin, IUCN country manager, told Arab News.
He and his colleagues noticed the Rohingya’s craftsmanship while working on another project.
“We thought it would be very nice if we could show their talent to the humanitarian community in Cox’s Bazar. This recognition of their skill will be useful for the Rohingya people when they go back to their country,” he said.
The sale proceeds will be given back to the artisans but Amin said other humanitarian organizations could take up this idea to help improve the living standards of Rohingya refugees.
“We don’t have enough scope to earn here in the camp since we are not allowed to go out. But by preparing these handicrafts and selling them to the outside market, we can fight the poverty cycle to some extent,” said Hossain.
The UNHCR is also interested in continuing its support for the Rohingya in this way.
“We will keep on finding talented men and women among the refugees and, at the same time, we will keep on finding markets for selling these goods through our partner organizations,” Fhiras Al-khateeb, UNHCR spokesman at Cox’s Bazar, told Arab News.